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Politics chat: Trump, Biden use indictment and economic recovery to win support


Former President Trump is trying to take his latest indictment and use it to his advantage. His fundraising website's asking for donation to end what he's calling a witch hunt. And at campaign appearances, he's even making light of his legal troubles.


DONALD TRUMP: I consider it a great badge of honor because I'm being indicted for you. I am being indicted for you.


PERALTA: That was Trump last night at the South Carolina State Republican Party fundraiser. NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez joins us. Hey there, Franco.


PERALTA: Franco, the indictment says Trump allegedly helped defraud voters, but he's telling supporters he's standing up for them. What do you make of this strategy?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, politically speaking, if you look at the polls, it's working. I mean, he gave two very defiant speeches this weekend. You noted the South Carolina one. He also called, in that speech, it a sham indictment that amounted to election interference. Here's more.


TRUMP: And it is an outrageous criminalization of political speech. They're trying to make it illegal to question the results of an election.

ORDOÑEZ: Of course, Eyder, prosecutors say the indictment is about Trump's actions, not just his words. But that hasn't stopped Trump. He's been all over social media, for example - so much so that the Justice Department has actually asked a federal judge to issue a protective order against Trump after Trump appeared to promise revenge on anyone who goes after him. The order specifically seeks to limit what Trump can say about the case. But all day yesterday, Trump's lawyers and the Justice team were just going back and forth, trading legal jabs about the order, and a judge in the case actually denied Trump's team's request for more time to respond to the order. So they're going to have to respond by tomorrow.

PERALTA: So up until now, other Republican candidates for president have largely defended Trump. But that's changing, right?

ORDOÑEZ: A little bit, yes - I mean, because of his popularity with the base, Trump's basically been able to turn this case into kind of a litmus test for his rivals. And those who have criticized him have sometimes gotten booed on the campaign trail. But time is running out for them to distinguish themselves. So you're hearing from some of them speak out more than before.

One example - former Vice President Mike Pence - he went after Trump last week, saying his former boss tried to pressure him to lie and put himself before the Constitution. Pence's campaign went so far that it's now selling T-shirts with, quote, "too honest" written on them. That's, of course, a reference to the indictment and Trump allegedly telling Pence that he's too honest because he wouldn't reject electoral votes. And then there's Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. While he first defended Trump after the indictment, he's since gone a little further, stating that the 2020 election was not stolen. That's despite Trump's claims.

PERALTA: And while the Republican field has been trying to figure out how to deal with these indictments, has President Biden just been sitting back and watching?

ORDOÑEZ: Kind of - I mean, as Trump was being indicted, Biden was enjoying the beach. He and the first lady were on vacation. They went to dinner in Rehoboth, Del. He even got to see the new movie "Oppenheimer." He was really, you know, quite the split screen with Trump in court.

And purposefully or not, it did fit into a theme that Biden's campaign has been pushing. And that's kind of to make the contrast between the drama surrounding Trump and Biden's, you know, no-frills approach - you know, kind of just head down, working through his agenda.

PERALTA: And Franco, quickly, Biden is back in Washington this week. What's his agenda?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, he does get back tomorrow, but he'll actually only be here in Washington, D.C., for a few hours before he leaves again. He's going to host the Houston Astros baseball team, who won last year's World Series. And soon after that, he's going to leave for Arizona, a key battleground state, to tout his work on the economy. He's also going to go to New Mexico and Utah. And it's all part of a travel blitz by several of his top officials to tout that work. It's all tied to an August 16 event at the White House to celebrate the anniversary of passage of his infrastructure and climate bill.

PERALTA: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Franco, thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Eyder. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Matthew Schuerman
Matthew Schuerman has been a contract editor at NPR's Weekend Edition since October 2021, overseeing a wide range of interviews on politics, the economy, the war in Ukraine, books, music and movies. He also occasionally contributes his own stories to the network. Previously, he worked at New York Public Radio for 13 years as reporter, editor and senior editor, and before that at The New York Observer, Village Voice, Worth and Fortune. Born in Chicago and educated at Harvard College and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, he now lives in the New York City area.